MENA Cooking Club: Bahraini Halwa


It’s time to reveal what we have all been cooking up in the MENA cooking club this month.

Joanne from what’s on the list is our host this month and we are cooking Bahraini style

She gave us the option of Chicken Machbous and this Halwa recipe.

I made both (for chicken machbous click here) but first, bahraini halwa; originally from the island of Zanzibar, in Tanzania and came to Bahrain via way of the Omanis.
Whilst making the halwa I made a few forgivable mistakes Alhamdulillah it didn’t end in disaster!
The long process results in a soft halwa/sweet, slightly chewy, studded with a mixture of nuts and has an exotic depth stemming from the ‘queen of spice’ cardamom, cinnamon and rose water.

I halved the original recipe hoping for a small batch but really this recipe still serves at least 6.

This halwa can be quite daunting as it has many steps so i’ve shared a few photos of how to do it  not to do it in some instances!


Infuse saffron threads in a little water for at least an hour which i haven’t got a photo of and then i set to freshly grinding some green cardamom. I only managed to get about 1/2 tablespoon plus a 1/4 teaspoon before my arm gave up.


I attempted a brown butter by heat butter for 3 minutes in a skillet but this although it didn’t taste burnt looks it! The recipe says strain but how? it didn’t help as the dark bits still went through my fine mesh sieve! I didn’t have any butter left to start over so i went with it and infused the butter with some of my cardamom and ground cinnamon. I used cinnamon instead of nutmeg in the original recipe.


Mix together until smooth cornflour(starch not polenta!), rose water, water and a bit of that red food colour paste i found lurking at the back of the cupboard that was missing from my rose halwa last month.


In a medium size saucepan on a medium-high heat place sugar, water, lemon juice plus that saffron infused water stir until sugar dissolves bring to boil and then…


Set your timer to 45 minutes and press start.


Cover and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat then…


Gradually stir in rapeseed oil then cover and cook for another 5 minutes, Stir, cover and cook another 5 minutes then uncover and stir every 5 minutes.


At 30 minutes add ground cardamom and cinnamon, stir.



When I wasn’t busy stirring I toasted a mix of nuts in a hot pan and then roughly chopped them but you can do this beforehand if you prefer, less stress.


Halwa at various stages
At the 15 minute mark stir continuously until you reach 5 minutes
The recipe then states to remove excess oil which in my case had disappeared / been
absorbed i didn’t tilt the pan to see if there was any hiding but hey it’s all
good rapeseed oil is high in vitamin e! Now stir in your infused brown butter
and keep stirring until the time hits 0.
 Turn off the heat and stir in 3/4 of the nuts then carefully pour onto plate, mould, ice cube tray I used basically everything i had in my line of sight.
Leave to cool and set before eating. The colour lightens after a few days.

Bahraini Halwa

Serves 6
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 45 min
Total Time: 1 hr 55 min
  1. 2 cups sugar
  2. 2 1/2 cups water
  3. 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  4. 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  5. 1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom, plus 1/4 teaspoon for the butter
  6. 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon, plus 1/4 teaspoon for the butter
  7. 5 saffron threads
  8. 1/2 cup cornflour (starch)
  9. 1/2 cup water for the corn starch mixture
  10. a very small amount of red food colouring paste
  11. 3/4 cup rapeseed oil
  12. 1 tablespoon rose water
  13. 1 cup toasted nuts
  14. 1 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds
  1. Place saffron in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon hot water, stir and leave to infuse for 1 hour. If freshly grinding your cardamom pods then remove seeds from a handful of pods and grind in pestle and mortar. In a frying pan toast nuts and roughly chop and set aside.
  2. In a frying pan on medium to high heat cook butter for 3 minutes then remove from heat and transfer to small bowl then add cinnamon and cardamon. Set aside.
  3. Combine cornstarch, rose water, food colouring and 1/2 cup water. Mix until smooth.
  4. In a medium size pot pour sugar, water, infused saffron and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium to high heat.
  5. Set timer to 45 minutes. Stir cornstarch mixture into syrup then cover and press Start on your timer. Cook for 5 minutes.
  6. Gradually add in rapeseed oil and mix well.Cover and cook for another 5 minutes then uncover and stir every 5 minutes.
  7. At the time 30 minutes stir in your cardamom and cinnamon.
  8. For last 15 minutes stir continuously. Large bubbles will form.
  9. During the last 5 minutes remove any excess oil and add in the brown butter and continue to stir until time reaches 0. Turn off heat and stir in 3/4 of your nuts.
  10. Pour into desired serving dish, plate etc and top with sesame seeds and remainder of nuts. Leave on the counter top to cool and set before serving. Store in airtight container at room temperature.
  1. The halwa will lighten in colour over time but don’t let that alarm you.
  2. Ideally served with Arabic / Turkish coffee to balance out the sweetness.
  3. Measurement used: 1 UK Cup = 250ml
MENA Cooking Club: Bahraini Halwa
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MENA Cooking Club: Bahraini Halwa

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